Except for once in Week 17, the Texans did not use safety Danieal Manning as a kickoff returner during the regular season. That should change as the playoffs kick off on Saturday at Reliant Stadium.
Manning said Thursday that he expects to get "a lot of reps" on returns in the postseason. The Texans' starting strong safety got his first chance to return all season last Sunday at Indianapolis, an uneventful 18-yard gain late in the second quarter.
"We were kind of getting him ready," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on Wednesday. "Y'all know he's a heck of a kick returner. Throughout the course of the season, we did not have him doing that, but it is something that we're prepared to do… That's what this time of year is."
Rookie wide receiver Keshawn Martin was the Texans' kick and punt returner for much of the season. Martin ranked fifth in the NFL in punt return average (12.1 yards) but 17th in kickoff return average (23.9). Manning averages 26.8 yards per kickoff return since entering the league in 2006, which ranks fourth in the NFL. He led the league with 29.7 yards per return in 2008 with the Chicago Bears.
"Personally, I get a kick out of returning balls," Manning said. "That's one of my things that I think I'm really good at. Any way that I can help the team. One way is playing on special teams. I guess I'm doing my job on defense, but I feel like I can continue to do more when I play more on special teams."
The Texans did not use Manning as a returner this season because of his importance to the defense. The seventh-year veteran started all 16 games and had two interceptions, a defensive touchdown, eight passes defensed, one sack and three forced fumbles. He ranked third on the team with 77 tackles.
Manning did return kicks in the first six games of last season, his first with the Texans. He averaged 27.4 yards per return until fracturing his fibula on defense in Week 7. He returned after three games did not return another kick until the playoffs, when he averaged 33.3 yards on four returns.
"Everybody knows what that man can do," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith. "I'm excited for him to break a big play, but I just want him to be on defense, too. I want him to stay healthy and be out there with his dog on defense. But I know he's going to make a big play. If they give him a crease, man, he's going to hit it with no fear."
It sounds like that's exactly what the speedy Manning intends to do.
"That's part of my game," Manning said. "I'm an emotional guy. I like to set the tone or spark play around here. I feel like being on kickoff returns can maybe jump start me and jump start the team."